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Journal brettz9's Journal: Open sourcing human language

This is a first draft for a statement to be potentially added to my Firefox add-on at

You are using a program which is saved in a file format and written in a language for which any browser vendor would be free to implement their own interpreter. Yet even this potentially open language (XUL) might not be satisfying to some as open enough, as advocates of openness increasingly push for everything to be expressed in HTML5, the language agreed to by all the major browsers--and a language no doubt already familiar to any web developer.

This highlights the fact that is increasingly being recognized that openness is not only to be judged by the degree of legal openness, but also by practical openness. For example, if I were to obfuscate my code, while still making the code legally open, you might be able to decode it with enough effort, but not every developer could or would. In any case, it would be a significant inconvenience, especially if this were a frequent occurrence, and this hardly matches the ideals of open source or open formats.

Even if the open sourcing of code were mandated by law, practical barriers also determine how open something is, at least for the masses without the skills or resources to translate something obscure into something manageable to their own needs.

What we are talking about here is a mere program about language (though we hope a useful one!) What if, all public human language, were, or at least could be, "open source"--in the practical sense. What if, you did not need to spend years in college to learn yet another language which has yet another way to say "apple" or "orange" in order to be able to read with your own eyes, this "code" about ANYTHING.

Sure, you can talk about Google Translate or Babelfish and pretend that technology is going to solve our problem for us. And certainly to some remarkable extent it has. But this is not a satisfying solution for parents of an international couple who cannot communicate directly, comfortably, and with perfect fidelity to their intentions, with their new family members. This is not satisfying to a doctor traveling to a foreign country who runs into a patient who is too far from medical care. This is not satisfying to the blog author who will not hear insights or appreciation from readers potentially from huge swaths of the world population simply because the "code" of their language is not, practically speaking, open to these readers. This does not assuage the teacher who releases materials online for the benefit of all. This does not satisfy the business person who realizes that their markets are confined unless they pay an extra "localization tax", "translation tax", "interpretation tax", or "internationalization tax".

Many out there are willing to quibble about principles for open formats or trumpet the benefits of open source code and what "many eyes" have to offer.

But with Esperanto--or the possibility of some language being chosen by international consensus, whether English or otherwise--you make fun of it. The idea to vote on a language in an international meeting--laughable. But we can overcome any obstacle to get computer drivers, etc., to air traffic control to follow a standard. But something which would benefit EVERY SINGLE PERSON--no, no, not that.

We as a race have wrestled the human race from bloodthirsty tribal rivalries, through city-state carnage, to horrific wars between nations to binding international agreements. Yet this one is just too big for us.

We can loudly call on companies to endorse web standards---but a human language for which every single humble human being which comes into some contact with oral or written communication abroad could benefit--whether emigrant, immigrant, traveler, social network user, or web searcher--no, that's not something we can handle.

I think it is.

Make human speech and human writing to be in an open format, in the practical sense, by default--a format which all processors--human, that is--will be capable of producing and reading/listening, after an elementary education (and in the future, no doubt even earlier).

Make the knowledge which people are willing to open source in a legal sense, to automatically be open source in a practical sense as well.

And for those concerned with language extinction, let me ask you this---Is the process of ironing out the differences between web browsers, so that JavaScript, HTML, and CSS will behave the same in each browser, making us less inclined to learn new languages, or does it make us more able to learn specialized programming languages should we so choose because we are not burdened with uselessly incompatible and inadequate lingua francas?

The fact that this program's supporters are willing to support the idea--a program which fosters greater accessibility to and potential appreciation for any script in the world--should be a testament to the fact, that this standardization does not aim to stamp out diversity, but on the contrary, aims to harmonize it. For what good is diversity if there is no means to benefit from it? If you really value diversity, maybe you should go back to not speaking any language at all, since that will truly let you enjoy mutual unintelligibility if that's what you want. But in a family or nation which considers its people as one, the lack of a common medium is disturbing. Why should it be any different at the global scale?

The world is ready for an officially decided world auxiliary language---a language not to replace mother tongues, but to be standardized so as to require only one international language. If you support English, then come to the table and give us all the reasons why English is a good choice. If you are in the majority you may believe you are in, it will be easy enough for the majority to endorse your view, and consolidate the use of English everywhere. If you support a constructed language like Esperanto, come to the table leaving the final choice open, but give us the benefits of such a language. But do not sit back and do nothing, or quibble and pontificate uselessly about which language you think should be the final choice. This requires a global decision if we are to get this decision moving.

The content of this letter may be modified or redistributed freely for any purpose and without restriction. If it may be of use, I hope it may be translated into other human languages so that it can also be as close to practically open as we can get without a world language...

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Open sourcing human language

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